When comparing indoor and outdoor cats, indoor cats have the advantage when it comes to lifespan. Cats that wander outdoors are exposed to viruses, intestinal parasites and fleas, and are more likely to have encounters with vehicles, unfriendly dogs and territorial feral cats. That makes it sound like keeping your cat indoors is the easy choice to make, but strictly indoor cats are more likely to become sedentary and overweight and indoor cats that don’t receive adequate stimulation display stress behaviors and can damage furniture with their claws.
So what’s a concerned cat owner to do?
If your cat is up for it, go for the best of both worlds and take your cat out on a leash for supervised outside time. Here’s how:
First, make sure your cat agrees. Just become some cats do well on leashes outdoors doesn’t mean all cats will. If your cat is the one that hides under the bed whenever someone opens the front door, he’s probably happy to remain a strictly indoor cat. The cat who is a candidate for leash walking is the cat who has a healthy curiosity about the outdoors, or the cat who tries to run out when the door opens. You know your cat. If you suspect he wouldn’t be a fan, you’re most likely right and trying to force it on him because it’s good for him isn’t going to end well.
Start with a harness. Attaching a leash to a collar can be dangerous if your cat freaks out and tries to bolt, or he could even manage to slip out of the collar completely. A harness should be made of durable but comfortable material and should be adjustable. It should fit snugly but not be too tight. Make sure the leash attachment on the harness is on the back and not at the neck.
Before you venture outdoors, get your cat used to the harness. This is also a good way to verify that you have purchased the right size. Put your cat in the harness and let him wear it (supervised) indoors. If he wriggles out of it or tries to pull it off with his rear legs and gets stuck, it doesn’t fit right. Try tightening it or get a smaller size.
Once your cat is comfortable wearing the harness and moving around in it, you can take him outside. Try to find a quieter location for your first few trips out. If you live on a busy street with lots of traffic or dogs or pedestrians, try your backyard first. If you’re brave, try the local park, but don’t forget that your cat needs to be transported in a carrier in a car, even if he’s wearing his harness.
Have realistic expectations. A cat that has been indoors for most or all of his life will take time to adjust to the outdoors. This is great for him and provides plenty of mental stimulation, but he may be overwhelmed at first. Your first trip outside might only last minutes before he wants to go back in. Take your cues from him.
Other Things To Consider:
Fleas and Ticks: Even if you’re not planning on going far, topical flea prevention is a must. Fleas are notorious pests and you do not want to establish an infestation in your home. We carry Bravecto for cats at Boston Street Animal Hospital, which is applied topically and is effective for three months. Bravecto also offers rebates to bring the cost down.
Safety: Don’t let your cat climb trees while wearing his leash and harness. He could get tangled and if he gets too high, you might be unable to get him down.
Supervision: Your cat should always be supervised when outside on a leash. Don’t tie him somewhere or leave him alone. He could get tangled or get loose, or be unable to get away from a threat, such as an unleashed dog.
Your Safety: If your cat is in danger or is terrified, you might need to pick him up. Be careful so that he does not bite you in his fright.